I spend some time on TPIN (Trumpet Player’s International Network) which is an email sent with threads of topics for and about trumpet playing.  Recently, I came across a post from a friend of mine, John Daniel that I thought held particular merit for my site, AllThingsTrumpet.  John is currently the trumpet professor at my Alma Mater, Lawrence University in Appleton Wisconsin and a member of the Battle Creek Brass Band.  I asked John if I could post his article and he graciously agreed.  Enjoy!

A few thoughts on teaching expression

I almost wrote “teaching musicianship” on the subject header, but in most ensemble situations playing with a good sound, the right dynamic, good pitch, good style and good rhythm IS MUSICIANSHIP.  The range of personal expression that is available to an individual within an ensemble is usually pretty subtle and takes fantastic control.

So let’s talk about teaching expression, which I would consider an aspect of musicianship.  Many, if not most trumpet teachers would prefer to coach a student through a piece of music than teach the student how to play the trumpet directly.  And this approach works to some degree, and is necessary to some degree.  The exact degree depends on many factors such as how adept/clumsy the teacher is at working with a physical approach, how adept/clumsy the student is at learning a physical approach, the personality of the student (extroverts tend to be naturally expressive), and how well prepared the student is to play the piece on the stand.  Sometimes we do not and should not get into mechanics. But in my experience, a student is only going to imitate or “mock” the teacher or a recording when we teach this way.  I’m not saying it is wrong, only that there is almost always another step to the process and one that is often neglected.


What I’m trying to get around to discussing is AUTHENTICITY.  For me, this is the knowledge of an appropriate range of expression for a given musical environment, and the ability to naturally and somewhat spontaneously know how to express the music with taste.  I think it comes down to a few things:

1.      A love of music that is expressed first of all by listening to lots of music and a variety of styles of music.

2.       A well trained ear that inclines us to “play by ear”, even when we are reading music off a page.  This implies playing by ear and using the page to tell us what we should be hearing.  It isn’t anything profound to understand, but it does imply playing with an integrated brain, not all from the left side.

3.      Technique.  Not just higher, louder, faster, but also slower, lower, softer, and well, BETTER!  If we have control over small shadings in dynamic and ARTICULATION, we can be quite expressive without even thinking about it, or in a word, AUTHENTIC.

An Exercise in Authentic Expression

One of the projects that has helped my studio the most is to assign play-along projects.  Dokshitzer and Nakariakov both have CD’s of vocalise. Ask the student to play along by ear, not writing anything down.  Do the same with some easy Chet Baker, etc.  The first project or two tends to go slowly, so pick something beautiful and simple.  Once they have done this with a variety of players and styles, they start to get a better feel for expression.
John D.